What is the Soul – Part 1

“A child’s heart is broken by misfortunes we consider trivial. It identifies completely with each incident, being unable to see it against the backdrop of a whole, variable lifetime.” Huston Smith, The World’s Religions (p25).

Myth and Existence

Sometimes there is so much in a subject we have to try several different ways to approach it before we find one that allows for ease of explanation and has wide resonance. Understanding the dual nature of the soul and how it impacts our embodied existence on Earth is one of those subjects. This subject is too full to cover in one post, and probably in a thousand posts, but I am going to try to do the subject some justice in four.

For me, mythology is a natural starting point for this exploration since it represents the earliest stories we’ve told ourselves about existence.

In her book A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong says, “… all mythology speaks of another plane that exists alongside our own world, and that in some sense supports it. Belief in this invisible but more powerful reality, sometimes called the world of the gods, is a basic theme of mythology… it informed the mythology, ritual, and social organization of all societies before the advent of our scientific modernity, and continues to influence more traditional societies today”[1]

Thus, from the very earliest, we have evidence of some sort of knowledge of an existence that is categorically different from the Earthly, embodied, existence. Because we have been guided for centuries now by the philosophy of empiricism and the scientific method, we tend to have a hard time accepting a truth we cannot perceive. Thus, instead of seeing this very clear, repeated theme amongst human stories everywhere as evidence of a discarnate world, we look at it backwards.

We consider it a ‘peculiarity’ of the human brain and look to biological processes to help us understand something that has nothing to do with biology. It’s probably the biggest misinterpretation of how things work since we thought the Sun revolved around the Earth. We just don’t understand enough of this process to see it clearly from a scientific point of view.

One of the earliest lines from Armstrong’s book is, “The Neanderthal graves show that when these early people became conscious of their mortality, they created some sort of counter-narrative that enabled them to come to terms with it.”[2] Here the obvious implication is that the Neanderthals couldn’t possibly have had a true knowledge or understanding of an existence beyond the body

The arrogance of empiricism is obvious in this statement. Not that Karen Armstrong, herself, is arrogant, just that the statement itself hides an assumption we’ve taken for granted to such an extent that we don’t even recognize it as an assumption anymore. How do we know that the Neanderthals manufactured a counter-narrative? Perhaps they had a true understanding of the holistic experience of existence which they struggled to express using the tools and communication they were constrained to in a human body.

The truth is that we don’t know, we have no idea what they knew or understood – we can only assume their level of knowledge based on how we think about our own knowledge – a perception heavily influenced by empiricism and the scientific method.[3]

“It is highly significant that these myths and rituals of ascension go back to the earliest period of human history. It means that one of the essential yearnings of humanity is the desire to get ‘above’ the human state. As soon as human beings had completed the evolutionary process, they found that a longing for transcendence was built into their condition.” (27) A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong

But what if we were to flip this idea on its head? What if our mythological stories and the core of our spiritual beliefs do not express merely our ‘yearning’ for some greater narrative, but instead speaks to a deep, subconscious understanding of an underlying truth we can’t consciously make sense of?

In that respect, mythology and folklore could be viewed as the way our subconscious, soul-mind tries to bridge the gap between the long-view of our existence and our current, individualized, embodied, incarnation.

The Contrast – Our Soul Self

For the sake of argument, let’s allow ourselves to accept that this might be true; to consider a ‘long-view’ not just of humanity or society, but of our own, personal existence. Essentially, this would mean we live an incarnated or embodied life on a physical plane (Earth) and then transition through death to a disembodied existence, we then transition again through birth into another embodied life, and so on.

If we can allow for the possibility that we have a disembodied existence in addition to our embodied existence, we might wonder what this disembodied existence is like. In previous posts, I have referenced the Newton dialogues on the life-between-life experience. Although I would stop short of calling these ‘evidence’ because information garnered under hypnosis conditions can be highly suspect, they do offer an example of what a discarnate existence might be like in contrast to the embodied one.

“Dr Newton [“N” from now on]:,,,[4]Will you please describe to me the exact sensation you feel at the time of death? Subject [“S” from now on]: Like… a force…of some kind… pushing me up out of my body,,, I’m ejected out the top of my head. Dr N: What was pushed out? S: Well – me! Dr. N: Describe what “me” means. What does the thing that is you look like,,, S: (pause) Like a…pinpoint of light…radiating… Dr. N: How do you radiate light? S: From… my energy… I look sort of transparent white,,, Dr. N: And does this energy light stay the same after leaving my body? S: (pause) I seem to grow a little…as I move around. Dr. N: If your light expands, then what do you look like now? S: A…wispy…string…hanging”[5]

Contrasted with a “wispy string hanging” or a “radiating pinpoint of light energy,” the physical body must seem a heavy burden to carry. While it’s certainly probable that being a pinpoint of light comes with its own set of challenges, it’s unlikely that our string-self ever has the sniffles during allergy season, or has to throw-up or has to eat at all, or – by extension – poop.

Operating in a physical body must be an unfathomable experience for the disembodied. How would you describe what it’s like to have a body to a being that doesn’t have one?

Some people who champion the hypothesis of a disembodied existence refer to us as energetic beings or beings of conscious thought. Since even the heart of physics supports the idea that everything in the universe, including us, is made up of energy that seems plausible. Conscious thought could be one part of our existence that persists into a disembodied state. But, what about personality? Or imagination? Or memory? Are these qualities intimately tied to an embodied state or could they persist before and after death of the body?

My own experience with past life impacts and the field of past life regression in general suggest that some of these qualities at least carry over from body to body, which suggests they persist into a disembodied state. The Newton dialogues provide some examples that support this idea;

“S [different from before]: I’m hearing sounds. Dr. N: What sounds? S: An… echo… of music… musical tingling… wind chimes… vibrating with my movements… so relaxing.,,, I have a memory of scent and taste, too. Dr. N: Does this mean our physical senses stay with us after death? S: Yes, the memory of them…” (loc 313) – Journey of Souls, Michael Newton

The natural question that arises, of course, is – if memory persists through death – why don’t we remember our past life or life-between-life memories in the current life? It would certainly be a lot easier to accept the existence of a ‘soul’ if we did…

Next week we’ll talk about why we don’t remember our Soul’s existence apart from the body.

[1] A Short History of Myth; Armstrong, Karen; pg 4

[2] (1) A Short History of Myth, Karen Armstrong

[3] This is not, by the way, an argument that we should go back to the dark ages where we take everything on Faith.

[4] The original text is peppered with “…” ellipses, which makes it hard to use them to indicate that I’ve “skipped” some text not relevant to the discussion for the sake of brevity. Where I omitted text, therefore, I’ve used commas instead and kept the ellipses from the original text.

[5] (loc 180) Journey of Souls – Michael Newton

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